Should Some College Courses Cost More than Others? One CA Legislator Thinks So

Higher education has hit a rough patch in California due to the state’s budget woes. A recent article in Inside Higher Education highlights the difficulties budget cuts have caused and one potential solution: two-tiered pricing for courses at community colleges.

Over the last five years, $1.5 billion has been cut from the California community college system. According to another article in Inside Higher Education

[s]ince 2007, the state’s 112 community colleges have been forced to substantially reduce staffing, which in turn led to a 21 percent dip in course offerings…. And first-time students were the most likely to be turned away, with a 5 percent enrollment decline even as the number of California high school graduates increased by 9 percent.

Cutting 100,000 courses out of the community college system’s offerings has created a shortage in many disciplines. Consequently

Das Williams, a Democrat who represents Santa Barbara in California’s State Assembly, introduced [a] proposal last month. It would allow colleges to offer nonresident tuition rates – about $200 per credit compared to the standard $46 per credit – for courses in summer or winter sessions.

Mr. Williams argues that differential tuition will help ease budget cuts to community colleges and also students to save money by getting their two year degree more expeditiously:

“These same courses at the lower fees would still be offered during the regular academic year. But if students choose to pay a higher fee during a summer or winter session, this would allow them that opportunity….This option would save students potentially thousands of dollars in living expenses by allowing them to take a course and transfer, rather than hang around for a year waiting for a class to open up.”

Critics of the plan argue that it will change the nature of the community college system which has been seen as a gateway to higher education for lower income students. They argue that the differential pricing system would cater to wealthier students and marginalize those of more modest means.

CSCubed Joins AICUP 2013 Student Lobby Day in Harrisburg

College Students Concerned by College Costs is joining the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania’s Student Lobby Day on April 16 in Harrisburg. We will be advocating for the Middle Income Student Debt Reduction Act that is currently before the Pennsylvania Legislature.  For more information on the act please yesterday’s post.

We’ll be live tweeting the events on Twitter @CSC_Cubed. Send us your pictures and experiences there or use #studentlobbyday.

Please Support the Pennsylvania Middle Income Student Debt Reduction Act

College Students Concerned by College Costs is supporting the Middle Income Student Debt Reduction Act currently being debated in the Pennsylvania Legislature. The Senate version (SB 420) is being sponsored by Senators Ward and Alloway and the House version will be introduced shortly by Representative Quinn (see the co-sponsorship memorandum here).

This law is aimed at helping families with incomes between $80,000-110,000 pay for college. Currently, this demographic finishes college with the highest average student loan debt of any income group.


The legislation proposes to reinstate $36 million that was cut from PHEAA funding last year as a new program dedicated to giving grants to families in this income group. For a complete discussion of the merits of the legislation, please see a video from Senators Alloway and Ward, as well as the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania’s website.

The History of State Funding for Higher Education

University of Louisville History Professor John Cumbler has an interesting piece in the Louisville Courier-Journal concerning the historical development of state higher education funding. He argues that higher education was mostly provided by elite institutions through the Civil War period. This changed with 1862 Morrill Land-Grant Act which led to 69 land-grant colleges designed primarily to educate teachers. These new colleges were not as academically rigorous as the elite private institutions, thus leading to a bifurcated system of higher education.

This changed at the beginning of the 20th Century based on the “Wisconsin Idea” model. Cumbler states:

The heart of the Wisconsin Idea was to initiate a graduated tax and pour the additional revenue into the university, making it a university of excellence which would serve the state by providing both the highest quality education for its citizens, regardless of their economic status, and by being a center for research and invention which would serve the state. The Wisconsin model became so successful that other states around the country looked to combine excellence and accessibility in higher education by pouring public funds into higher education.

It was not until the advent of the GI Bill in the post-World War II era that affordability and quality were joined together at state universities. States began viewing universities as a source of economic development, both through the jobs they provided in college towns and the educated workforce they provided.

However, in recent years the notion of a high-quality, inexpensive public university has begun to fall out of favor. Cumbler argues that

despite the obvious advantages of this model, which combines excellence with accessibility, because it is expensive at a time when there are other legitimate demands on limited state funds, increasingly states are slowly retreating toward the older two-tier model of higher education.

He concludes that

[i]n the short term states will save money. In the long term it is a strategy for stagnation and loss.

New Report on State Higher Education Funding

Each year the Grapevine Project at Illinois State University tracks changes in funding for higher education across the 50 states. They have just released their newest report incorporating data for the 2013 fiscal year.  Jordan Weissmann of The Atlantic has some interesting graphic charts from the report summarizing recent changes to state higher education funding. Funding cuts for higher education have be deep. Weissmann states:

Cash-poor state legislatures have gone to town on their higher education budgets, and as they’ve hacked away, tuition has risen along with the sums undergraduates have had to borrow. In total, 38 states cut post-secondary funding since the recession, many by more than a fifth.

Arizona (-36.6%) and New Hampshire (-35.7%) have had the largest cuts to their higher education budgets since 2008. According to Weissmann

collectively, states are spending 10.8 percent less than they were five years ago, when the recession began.

There is some good news as 11 states have increased aid to higher education over this period with North Dakota (+35.4%) and Wyoming (+32.3% ) leading the way.